England news April 25, 2013

Pietersen hopes turn to Ashes

His absence for the Champions Trophy is a huge blow for England and news on Kevin Pietersen's fitness is now set to dominate the next few months

Any regular spectator at Taunton in the early 1980s would be familiar with the sensation as the public address system announced: "No. 11 on your scorecard, Joel Garner, has been replaced by No. 12, Dennis Breakwell." Sighs followed. Breakwell, a slow left-arm spinner, was a worthy cricketer, but he was no replacement for Garner.

So it feels for England today. Several worthy candidates have an opportunity to take the position vacated by Kevin Pietersen in the team participating in the Champions Trophy. But none of them can truly be said to replace him.

Some will deny that. They will state, quite reasonably, that England reached No. 1 in the ODI rankings last year without Pietersen and they will state, quite reasonably, that Pietersen played in only four of England's run of 10 consecutive ODI victories last year. Pietersen's ODI record has included some significant troughs - he scored just one 50 in 24 innings between 2009 and 2011, for example - and, after his return from ODI retirement, England lost the next series he participated in, after Christmas in India. It is quite true that England can still win the Champions Trophy without him.

But it will be much harder. It was, after all, Pietersen who took the Man of the Tournament award when England clinched the only global trophy they have yet won - the World T20 in 2010 - and Pietersen who has more ODI centuries (nine) and more ODI runs (4,351) than any current England player. On the biggest stage, there is no England player more likely to revel in the spotlight, no England player more feared by the opposition and no England player as capable of changing the course of a game. His absence is a crushing blow to what had been presumed to be England's best chance to win a global ODI tournament.

It is not just about the runs, though. Pietersen's absence is a major blow to the balance of the England side. While the top three of Ian Bell, Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott provide excellent stability and reassurance, their role is best complemented by Pietersen's aggression at No. 4. Pietersen's absence leaves a heavy burden on the shoulders of Eoin Morgan, in particular, and to a lesser extent Jos Buttler.

There are several candidates vying for Pietersen's place. Joe Root has shown a welcome ability to adapt his game to the match situation in his brief England career to date and is probably best placed at present, but Jonny Bairstow is among those who may also have a chance. It was Root who batted at No. 4 in the ODI series against New Zealand, when Pietersen was rested.

There is better news of England's other injury worries. Graeme Swann, almost as important a player as Pietersen in the England team, has returned to bowling in the nets and hopes to play for Nottinghamshire next week, while Tim Bresnan made an impressive return for Yorkshire in the Championship on Wednesday. The return of both players will be a relief to Ashley Giles, England's limited-overs coach, though it will not compensate for the loss of Pietersen.

To compound matters, the Champions Trophy represents a glorious opportunity for England. It is not just that they have, after many years, found a method to flourish in ODIs, it is that rule changes, such as the use of a new ball from either end, and the advantage of home conditions - playing in England and Wales in June ought to play into their hands - should also have conspired to help them. The next World Cup in England does not come until 2019.

At present, it is anticipated that Pietersen will resume training in mid-June. That leaves him little opportunity to play first-class cricket before the start of the Ashes on July 10 as the English domestic season will soon thereafter be dominated by T20 cricket.

So it may be that Pietersen's return comes against Australia. Somerset have a first-class match against the tourists starting on June 26 and, just as Andrew Strauss was drafted into the Somerset side when he required match practice ahead of the series against India, so could Pietersen be. His other options would appear to be a Championship game for Surrey against Yorkshire (starting on June 21, perhaps too early after his return to training) and a warm-up game for England against Essex starting on June 30. Pietersen, it should be noted, came so close to joining Somerset ahead of the 2005 season, he drove around in one of their sponsored cars for much of the winter. He ultimately joined Hampshire.

Either way, with Ashes fever apparently as prevalent and contagious as the recent measles outbreak, updates on Pietersen's knee may dominate the media as news of Denis Compton's did more than half-a-century ago and news of David Beckham's second metatarsal did ahead of the 2002 football World Cup.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Randolph on April 26, 2013, 16:33 GMT

    Well England are in trouble now, if KP doesn't make the Ashes then Patto and co will carve through this weak attack. It is still unfathomable that Ian Bell can make an international side, despite his career being ended time and time again by Warne.

  • John on April 26, 2013, 3:42 GMT

    Since in his brief (8 game) ODI career, Joe Root has 3 fifties and has never been out for less than 30, it's fair to say he has the inside track at the moment, especially as he can contribute an over or two if needed- something sadly lacking in England's other specialist batsmen. However, he's only 22 and even if he does appear to have a good temperament, it's hardly fair to pin the label 'Pietersen's replacement' on him. Obviously Eng will miss a fit and in form Pietersen, but stuff happens. I think Eng has a chance if all their bowlers are fit and firing, but the same is true of several teams. It'll be about who grabs momentum, as the WI did in the World T20 recently.

    @Gary Hansell: nice to hear from you. Remind us how Aus's pace battery got on in England in the ODIs last year? Here's a hint: England's #7 never faced a ball. So KP must have made lots of runs, right? Ah, he wasn't playing. And it was a 4-0 whitewash by Australia? Oh, by England.

    I think I could get used to that.

  • Michael on April 25, 2013, 20:17 GMT

    The situation with KP is dragsville but it is so much better to have him fit for the Ashes than run any risk of a no-show there. In 50 over games a problem like this can be papered over and it is an opportunity for Bairstow or Butter to excel in though I would probably put Prior in for KP. it is good news that Swann and Bresnan are getting right, and Onions seems to be enjoying his April at least. As for Australians it is going to be like 10 green bottles. Ryan H. is already on his way home and he has 'Fragile-be careful' stamped all over him. We should open a book on who will follow him....Watto or Patto for me!

  • Nick on April 25, 2013, 16:52 GMT

    Having seen how dire Oz were in India I doubt anyone will be preparing green tops. With four left handers in the batting line up (most of whom couldn't lay a bat on the fast bowlers in Oz never mind Swanny) if Clarke and Haddin don't come off Oz will be ruined. They will have a few good sessions with the ball - even India reduced us to rubble over here in the last series on an overcast evening - but that will be it.

    Let's hope they turn up with a bit of mongrel in them.

  • stuart on April 25, 2013, 16:38 GMT

    Aussie fans are all really quite chippy about their prospects.You would almost think they had been involved on the right end of the recent whitewash.As to there battery of fast bowlers my odds are on at least two of them breaking down by the second test. Shame they didn't bring cummins cause I was looking forward to him bowling one delivery and then doing a hammy.Hope Watson bowls as it will be great to see such a world class bowler (?) in action.As for Pietersen he is just one player and lets face it that is all the Aussie batting have

  • shashwata on April 25, 2013, 15:19 GMT

    @ Gary Hansell : If England are "all out" at 4 down then your dear Aussies are even worse. They are all out with Clarke out. Lucky for you people that he bats at 4 or 5. That way it isn't "all out" till the "mighty" Aussies are 3 down or so. Now had he been an opener , then 1 down would have been "all out".

    I am beginning to think that the Aussie fans believe this is the " BEST " Australian side EVER, right ? I mean, so one sided it is in Australia's favour that England don't even deserve to participate in the series. I think they wouldn't have been so sure of their bowling attack even when they had Lee, Warne and Mcgrath !

    And as we all know ,raw pace is all that is needed to dismantle a batting line-up.Isn't it ? Especially if that pace is far more than even Usain Bolt's, like who else but the current Aussie pace battery.Example ? Don't you all remember how successful Shaun Tait was in his short international career ?

  • Dummy4 on April 25, 2013, 14:26 GMT

    England 4 down are all out, that is why our fast bowling battery has been developed and sit in waiting (no gentle medium pace, no swing bowlers, no over the hill trundlers). It's common knowledge that England intends to wear down this attack with Trott, Compton and Cook, then hope Peterson to make merry. This has been the plan since cricket began (out and out fast bowling vis West Indies and Lillee and Thomson, Tyson and Statham ect.) Good luck England if you can turn this around then you deserve to get out with the skin of your teeth (but there's no turning it around). No matter how England fair it, the same will apply when they visit Oz, another set of fast bowlers there waiting for you ……get use to it !!!

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